Cleat Geeks

On The Clock: New York Jets 2016 Offseason Preview

In his “On the Clock” series, NFL analyst Brett Casella (@NFL_iQ on Twitter) will take an in-depth look at all 20 teams that failed to make the playoffs as they head into the 2016 offseason. He will conduct a thorough examination of each roster and make recommendations on whom to cut and re-sign, as well as which players to target through free agency and the draft.

This article will focus on the New York Jets.

Team: New York Jets
2015 Record: 10-6
Draft Pick: #20


Season Summary

It was the punch heard round the world. During a heated locker room altercation in training camp, IK Enemkpali, one of the Jets backup linebackers, sucker punched starting quarterback Geno Smith in the face, fracturing his jaw in two places. Smith would require surgery and miss the first 6-10 weeks of the season. The Jets year was over before it even started.

Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 33-year old journeyman who only went on to have the most prolific season in Jets history, throwing for 31 touchdown passes. He was greatly helped by the receiving duo of Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, who combined for over 2,500 yards and 26 touchdowns. Decker had a solid season (80 catches, 1,o27 yards, 12 touchdowns), but Marshall re-wrote the Jets record books, setting new franchise highs by grabbing 109 passes for 1,502 yards.

Ultimately, the heroic efforts of the Jets passing attack came up just short. Even with a 10-6 record, a Week 17 loss to the Buffalo Bills knocked New York out of playoff contention and allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to sneak in at the last possible second.

Re-Signings & Cuts

antonio-cromartie-db-new-york-jets_pg_600At just $6.4 million under the salary cap, the Jets have less money to spend this offseason than any other team. They had to cut cornerback Antonio Cromartie just to get under the cap, a move which saved them $8 million. More cuts could be on the way in the upcoming weeks; keep your eyes on wide receiver Jeremy Kerley (who would save $1.3 million if cut), tight end Jeff Cumberland ($1.9 million in savings), and right tackle Breno Giacomini ($4.4 million in savings) as the offseason progresses.

If they are looking for more ways to open up immediate cap space, they could restructure the contract of wide receiver Brandon Marshall or left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson was a cornerstone of the Jets offensive line for years, but his current level of play can’t justify his $14 million cap hit. Extending him to a two- or three-year deal so he can finish his career in New York would be a good move for both sides.

The Jets could use some of the money they’d potentially save to re-sign quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, running back Bilal Powell, and defensive tackle Damon Harrison. Fitzpatrick is far from elite, but he is coming off of the best season in franchise history in a league where starting-caliber quarterbacks are hard to come by. Powell is a versatile back who can catch the ball out of the backfield on third down, and Harrison might be the most underrated player in the league.

Most of New York’s spending money disappeared when they chose to franchise tag defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, who will make $15.7 million in 2016.chrisivory

Due to their limited cap space, they will have to let some of their key players walk in free agency. Two of the most notable are Chris Ivory and Calvin Pace. Ivory had a solid 1,000 yard year, but the Jets can’t be confident that he can sustain his violent running style for an entire season. Pace used to be a premier pass rusher, but notched just three sacks in 2015 and will be turning 36 later this year. Expect both of these guys to be playing in a different uniform next season.

Free Agency Needs

With recent reports saying that contract talks are deteriorating between Ryan Fitzpatrick and the New York front office, the Jets could be in the market for a new signal caller. Rumor has is that the Broncos recently offered quarterback Brock Osweiler (who is considered by many to be the top free agent at his position) a three-year deal worth more than $45 million. That is way out of the Jets price range, but they could try to find a stopgap in Drew Stanton or take a gamble on Chase Daniel for about one-third of the price.

With so little cap space, it is hard to envision the Jets pursuing any big-time free agents, but they might browse the bargain bin. Their offensive line has been dominant in recent years, but an aging Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson have turned the unit into a liability. If the Jets do decide to cut Breno Giacomini, they could replace him with a cheaper player such as Kelvin Beachum or Chris Clark.

Potential Draft Picks

The Jets will have a lot of needs to fill when it comes time to draft, including linebacker, cornerback, offensive line, and most likely running back.braxtonMiller

They could realistically draft any of these positions at #20, depending on who is still on the board. Judging by the countless mock drafts released this offseason, Ezekiel Elliott is a favorite to land in New York. It makes sense – he is a spectacular all-around back that can fill the roles of both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell by himself.

Reggie Ragland from Alabama is the perfect linebacker for this defense. Ragland is a downhill thumper who can fill holes and wrap up opposing running backs. Playing behind the Jets stacked defensive line will allow him to flourish as a run stopping inside linebacker. His liability in pass coverage might allow him to slip to the Jets.

Other potential picks in the first round include offensive tackles Jack Conklin and Taylor Decker, cornerbacks Eli Apple and Mackenzie Alexander.

ConnorCookIf Ryan Fitzpatrick does sign with another team in free agency, the Jets might look to the draft to find their quarterback of the future. They could take Paxton Lynch in the first round if he is still available, or hold off until the second and pull the trigger on Connor Cook.

Other players the Jets could look to in Round 2 include defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Chris Jones or cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Artie Burns.

If they don’t grab Elliott in the first, look for them to scoop a running back such as Kenneth DixonAlex CollinsJordan Howard, or C.J. Prosise as the draft progresses into the middle rounds.

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